Iowa's 2007 Deer Outlook -- Part 1

Here's everything you need to know to find Hawkeye State deer this year. (October 2007)

Photo by Mark Werner.

Here are quick facts about deer hunting in Iowa this fall and winter:

'¢ The total population of deer is down slightly.

'¢ Hunters will voluntarily take fewer bucks, but the quality of the bucks they take will be appreciably higher.

'¢ First-season shotgun hunters will have the best success rate, around 55 percent. Lowest success rates, somewhere less than 30 percent, will be tallied by bowhunters. But those notoriously selective hunters will score a higher proportion of potentially world-class trophy bucks.

'¢ Ultimately, when the 2007-2008 Iowa deer hunting seasons end in January, hunters will have killed more than 150,000 deer and left a standing herd of around 250,000 deer.

BY THE NUMBERS

Willie Suchy is the Iowa Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist who supervised the DNR's deer management policies for more than 20 years before his recent promotion to State Wildlife Research Supervisor. He says that after this year's hunting seasons, the standing population of 250,000 deer will be slightly lower than in past years.

"By the numbers, our deer herd is down from what it was three years ago when it peaked at around 300,000 deer in the state," said Suchy.

"There are places where we may have over-hunted deer, and there are places where we still have too many. Statewide, 250,000 is about where we want to be on deer numbers.

"Our departmental goal is to provide deer numbers so that in most parts of the state, deer hunting isn't the easiest thing in the world," he continued. "If half our hunters get a deer, that means it's not too easy, but it's not too hard. Our overall success rate last year, across all the deer hunting seasons, was 52 percent. So we're comfortable that we're on the right track with our deer population."

Despite the lower total deer population, an interesting aspect of improved hunting is the increase in the number of trophy-caliber bucks seen in Iowa. A subtle, yet significant change in hunting philosophies is the reason behind the surge in big bucks.

"Guys used to compare how many bucks their group took during shotgun season," said Terry Hainfield, a district wildlife management biologist in far northeast Iowa.

"Now they brag about how many small bucks they passed up and how many does they got. The change in attitude is really showing up in the quality of bucks up here. I expect to see hunters kill some really nice bucks this fall. And if a few hunters are in the right places at the right times, there are at least a couple of tremendous bucks in Allamakee County that will really draw some attention if somebody gets them."

2006 DEER HARVEST

Counties in far northeast and far southeast Iowa lead our county-by-county summary of total deer harvested during the 2006-07 hunting seasons. Hunters in Clayton County, in the northeastern corner of the state, killed 7,389 deer to earn first place.

Van Buren County, in far southeast Iowa, claimed second place, with 4,742 deer killed.

Allamakee County, in northeast Iowa, tallied 4,570 deer to take third place. Jackson County, in far eastern Iowa, earned fourth place with 3,624 deer harvested.

And fifth place went to Dubuque County, in northeast Iowa, with 3,222 deer tagged by hunters.

"Northeast and southeast Iowa just have the habitat to produce a lot of deer," said Suchy. "Clayton and Van Buren counties are probably always going to be two of our top 10 deer producers."

Bringing up the rear of Iowa's deer-harvest totals are intensely farmed counties in northwest and north-central Iowa. A dearth of deer-friendly habitat is reflected in their low deer-harvest statistics. Dickinson County, in northwest Iowa, was 95th out of 99 counties in deer taken, with a total of 294 during all seasons.

Emmett County, also in northwest Iowa, contributed 292 deer to earn 96th place in the statewide tally. Hunters in Ida County added 210 deer to the harvest totals for 97th place.

Grundy County, arguably Iowa's most heavily farmed county, earned the 98th spot with 181 deer. During all of the 2006-07 hunting seasons, north-central Iowa's Calhoun County tallied the least deer of any county, with only 159 deer killed.

"The thing to remember is that even in those counties where there isn't much deer habitat, wherever there is deer habitat, there's probably an appropriate number of deer," said Suchy. "The density of deer per acre of suitable habitat is probably the same in Calhoun County as it is in Clayton County. There just aren't as many acres of suitable habitat for deer in Calhoun County."

DEER DISTRIBUTION

Suchy was pleased with the mix of counties that made up the top 25 counties for deer killed during the 2006 shotgun seasons. In years past, that top 25 was overloaded with counties from far northeast and far southeast Iowa, along with the southern two tiers of counties. Those high harvests paralleled comments and complaints about too many deer in those parts of the state.

In recent years, counties in east-central, south-central and west-central have earned a spot in the top 25.

"We're getting the (deer) population down in some places where there were too many deer, so those counties aren't showing up as strongly in the harvest results," said Suchy.

"We're seeing other counties in east-central and south-central Iowa fill those spots, which reflects good distribution of deer across the habitat that's available."

Johnson County, in east-central Iowa, is one of the mid-state counties that made the top 25 in 2006. It earned the 8th spot in the harvest listing, with 3,011 deer killed. Monroe County, in south-central Iowa, claimed the 12th position with 2,515 deer. Warren County, just south of the Des Moines urban complex, placed 13th with 2,489 deer.

Iowa County, in east-central Iowa, took the 15th spot with 2,465 deer. Washington County, also in east-central Iowa, placed 17th with 2,416 deer; and south-central Iowa's Marion County claimed 18th with 2,260 deer killed during all hunting seasons.

Other mid-state counties in the top 25 include Guthrie (with 2,239 deer), Madison (2,110) and Tama (1,969).

Plot the top 25 deer producers during last year's sho

tgun season on a map of Iowa, and the results checkerboard the southeastern third of the state. Add the next 50 top deer producing counties, and they fill in the middle third of the state -- from Cedar Rapids/Waterloo across to Council Bluffs.

Counties in the state's northwest third populate the bottom of the shotgun season harvest tally, except for a few counties along the Des Moines River corridor, which benefit from the deer-friendly habitat in that otherwise heavily agricultural landscape.

REGION-BY-REGION FORECAST

What can deer hunters expect in their regions during this year's seasons? Suchy gave a quick rundown:

Northwest

"Pretty much the same regulations and quotas as last year," he said. "We'll cut back in a couple counties up there. Some of the hunters are concerned that we've over-hunted deer in that area. I think it depends on where you hunt.

"In agricultural areas where the hunters can get to the deer, we may have to tighten quotas to give the deer some breathing room. In other areas -- along rivers where there's timber that's hard to hunt with a deer drive, or where landowners are restricting hunter access -- we still get complaints that there are too many deer. So overall, I think we're about where we want to be in northwest Iowa."

North-Central

"I got e-mails from hunters in northern Iowa last year, expressing concern that they didn't see as many deer," said Suchy. "Harvest data indicates that in some of those counties, the doe harvest was around 35 to 40 percent. As a biologist, that tells me there are enough does to maintain the herd at current levels. So we'll probably keep the quotas and regulations about the same, or maybe tighten them just a little in areas where the harvest data indicated we're getting ahead of the herd."

Northeast

"In the western part of northeast Iowa, where it's flatter and more heavily farmed, we're about right for our deer numbers, so we'll leave things alone," said Suchy. "Over along the (Mississippi) River, deer numbers are still strong in all our surveys. So we may actually increase quotas again. Allamakee and Clayton counties are deer factories, and we have to work to stay ahead of them."

Eastern

"One of the challenges in eastern Iowa is, we have a lot of urban areas there that are expanding into areas that were previously rural," said Suchy. "The rolling, wooded habitat is still excellent deer habitat. But now hunters can't hunt because of acreages and housing developments.

"In the areas where our hunters can get to the deer and hunt them effectively, deer numbers are appropriate to the habitat. So we'll probably keep the quotas the same as last year.

Southeast

"Our hunters have really stepped up and taken advantage of liberalized regulations to help us bring down the deer population in southeast Iowa," said Suchy. "We'll probably keep the quotas the same or maybe higher in a few areas.

"One problem we're running into (in southeast Iowa) is the purchase or leasing of land for hunting rights," he continued. "Guys buy or lease land, keep other hunters off, shoot only the biggest bucks for themselves, and think they've got it made.

"Then about five or six years down the road, they notice that they've got deer coming out of their ears. And they start to think it might not be a bad idea to kill more does than bucks. Then they're playing catch-up and have to kill a whole bunch of does in a short time. It's better to consistently kill does as part of the overall deer-management process."

South-Central

"South-central is one of the areas where we've had the special bonus late antlerless season where hunters can use centerfire rifles," said Suchy.

"After two years, that season is working very well. In some of those counties, hunters killed 500 to 1,000 does during that late season."

He noted that there was some resistance to adding centerfire rifles as an option during the bonus late antlerless season in January. Non-hunters in relatively close confines were concerned about the safety of centerfire rifles. And hunters worried about unintentionally killing bucks that had already shed their antlers.

"We shortened the (special bonus late antlerless) season a bit in 2006 to offer some protection to bucks that lost their antlers early," Suchy said. "We may shorten it a little again this year, or we may hold it the same, depending on whether the numbers show that hunters need extra days to kill the number of deer we need to reach our management goals."

In the two years that centerfire rifles have been permitted during the special bonus late antlerless season, non-hunters have become comfortable with the safety exhibited by rifle-toting hunters. And hunters have accepted the opportunity for a "different" kind of deer hunting.

"It's becoming a tradition with some hunters in other parts of our state to load up and go to southern Iowa and hunt deer with their high-powers during that late season," said Suchy.

"That's great -- it provides hunters another hunting opportunity. It helps us accomplish our deer management goals. And the motels and restaurants in southern Iowa appreciate the extra money in the middle of winter."

Southwest

"We've got the same problem around Council Bluffs that we have around other urban areas," said Suchy. "Too many deer in housing developments that are protected from hunting. Other than that, our deer herd in the southwest region is about right.

"There's good trophy hunting in the Loess Hills because those hills are so hard to hunt. But there's not an overpopulation that concerns me.

"We'll probably leave regulations and quotas pretty much the same this year in southwest Iowa."

Central

The large acreages of Saylorville and Red Rock reservoirs, along with the expanding Des Moines urban area, have helped Dallas, Warren, Marion and Jasper counties advance in the deer-harvest rankings.

That's good in the short term, but could be bad in the long term.

"We've got lots of hunters in central Iowa, but have trouble in some instances getting them access to the deer," said Suchy.

"Special hunts inside the Des Moines city limits have been a big success, and the folks at Saylorville are doing a special hunt again this year.

"Special hunts are great opportunities for bowhunters to hunt close to home and do something that benefits the community. We add more and more special hunts every year. City officials are finding out they're a very effective way to deal with overpopulations of deer in urban areas."

So that's a quick overview of deer hunting in Iowa for the 2007-08 seasons. Long-time Iowa Game & Fish readers may notice a discrepancy

in harvest totals between 2006 and previous years.

In past years, the DNR used voluntary hunter report cards to create a statistical projection of the total number of deer killed during all hunting seasons, then calculated a county-by-county harvest total for the shotgun seasons only.

In 2006, all hunters were required to report via phone or Internet the number of deer harvested. This more accurate process provides a county-by-county tally of deer killed during all hunting seasons, and will help the DNR do an even better job of providing the tremendous deer hunting that Iowa has come to expect.

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